Introduction: Who Speaks? The Voice in the Human Sciences

History of the Human Sciences 10 (3):1-8 (1997)
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Emmanuel Levinas's Totality and Infinity is explicitly con cerned with the suppression of the voice of the Other by the synoptic totalizations of the voice of western philosophy. Levinas contests this emergence of Being and the systems of totality it indicates with the irruption of the face of the other, which signifies through contact and sensibility the presence of infinity within the human situation. Derrida's reading of this fundamental testing of western ontology rests on the accusation that western philosophy already has a term for this: empiricism. That is, Derrida exposes an alien voice within Levinas's exposure of the voice alienated from ontological formulations. In the later Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence Levinas implic itly recognizes the truth of Derrida's demonstration of a residual con ceptualism, and shifts from the thematization of infinite exteriority given by the Other, alterity and the face-to-face relation, to the search for a signifyingness that will breach the noema's identificational closure, that is, to the direct and exposed gesture of saying. Both the limit terms of Totality and Infinity and the response they produced in Derrida have become the starting-point of Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence: the testimony that is irreducible to a thematizing knowledge. What saves this saying from becoming in its turn another theme is that, in addition to its acting in the text, it acts upon and as HISTORY OF THE HUMAN SCIENCES Vol. 10 No. 3 © 1997 SAGE Publications [0952-695110:3] the text. The vocabulary, form of composition and mode of address of Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence strain against their inherited limits. And the work this obliges the reader to undergo is, of course, an ethical necessity, given the work's message.



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